Shell Oil Co. v. Lovold Co.

Citation705 N.E.2d 981
Decision Date30 December 1998
Docket NumberNo. 32S01-9806-CV-341,32S01-9806-CV-341
PartiesSHELL OIL COMPANY, Appellant (Defendant below), v. The LOVOLD COMPANY, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana
City of Indianapolis, Jane A. Seigel, Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorneys for Amici Curiae

BOEHM, Justice.

This case, like Shell Oil Co. v. Meyer, 705 N.E.2d 962 (Ind.1998), also decided today, deals with the liability of refiners under the Indiana Underground Storage Tank Act (the "Act"). In Meyer we held that a refiner is not an "operator" of the USTs at a retail gasoline station and therefore not liable for costs of corrective action from leaks in the tanks, merely because the refiner's brand creates practical leverage over the station's owner and operator. Because this case is before the Court on Shell's Motion for Summary Judgment, Shell is required to produce facts that, if true, negate its liability under each of the elements of the standard for "operator." We hold that under Meyer, the record in this case is insufficient to support summary judgment.

Factual and Procedural Background
A. History of the Property

From the mid 1950s to the early 1980s the property at 800 East Main Street in Brownsburg housed a gasoline station. In 1994 the Brownsburg Fire Department found a petroleum leak from the underground storage tanks at the property and reported it to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Within a few months, the property owner, The Lovold Company ("Lovold"), removed the tanks and contaminated soil and cleaned up the property at a cost of $150,000.

Lovold had purchased the property in 1985 from P & P Brownsburg Realty, Inc., and had never operated a gasoline station on the site. The chain of title revealed seven owners over the course of forty years prior to Lovold's purchase. From 1970 to 1980, the owner, Galyan's Brownsburg Inc., leased the property to Almond Oil ("Almond"). Almond in turn subleased the property to others who operated a retail gasoline station. Almond was a "jobber" or "independent distributor" for Shell from the mid 1960s to the late 1970s and supplied Shell gasoline to the Brownsburg station during the same time period. The record in this case on summary judgment does not contain many of the details of this relationship. We assume but cannot determine that Almond operated in a substantially similar way to Murphy Enterprises as described in Meyer.

B. Proceedings in this Lawsuit

In December 1995, Lovold filed a complaint under the Act to recover its cleanup costs from Shell and three other defendants. A second refiner was added as a defendant in September 1996. The complaint asserted that Shell "owned, operated or exercised operational control" of the station and was liable for the cost of removing contamination from the site. Shell moved for summary judgment on the ground that it was not an "operator" of the tanks at the station and accordingly had no liability under the Act. After a hearing, the trial court denied Shell's motion stating:

the Court finds that there are genuine issues of fact precluding the granting of summary judgment. Specifically, the issue of whether or not, Shell Oil Company was "in control of or having responsibility for" the underground storage tank(s) bringing Shell Oil Company within the meaning of an operator under I.C. 13-11-2-148(d).

Shell appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that the trial court erred in denying Shell's Motion for Summary Judgment because Shell was not an operator under the Act. Shell Oil Co. v. Lovold Co., 687 N.E.2d 383 (Ind.Ct.App.1997), reh'g granted 691 N.E.2d 521 (Ind.Ct.App.1998), trans. granted 698 N.E.2d 1194 (Ind.1998).

We granted transfer to resolve the conflict in the Court of Appeals between this case and Shell v. Meyer, 684 N.E.2d 504 (Ind.Ct.App.1997), trans. granted 698 N.E.2d 1183 (Ind.1998). We conclude that the trial court properly denied Shell's Motion for Summary Judgment on the record before it, although not for primarily the same reasons given by the trial court.

Standard of Review

On appeal the standard of review of a summary judgment motion is the same standard used in the trial court: summary judgment is appropriate only where the evidence shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C). All facts and reasonable inferences drawn from those facts are construed in favor of the non-moving party. Colonial Penn. Ins. Co. v. Guzorek, 690 N.E.2d 664, 667 (Ind.1997); Wright v. Carter, 622 N.E.2d 170, 171 (Ind.1993). The moving party bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Mullin v. Municipal City of South Bend, 639 N.E.2d 278, 281 (Ind.1994). If the movant sustains this burden, the opponent must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact. T.R....

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